Not in Kansas Anymore


Criterion releases CARNIVAL OF SOULS on Blu-ray in July — the DVD was my first Criterion purchase, back when I got my first multiregion player — so it’s a joy to be contributing a video essay to this one, me writing and Stephen Horne editing.

A bundle of goodness went into this project — we had access to Herk Harvey’s Centron Films industrial and educational movies, which I wanted to mix into the stream of it to show the continuity between his feature and his shorts work, and also just to make things even more weird and unpredictable. And my voice is joined by three guest interviewees — critic, horror novelist and regular Shadowplayer Anne Billson, horror comics creator Stephen Bissette, and horror screenwriter Fiona Watson. Thanks!

I think this is my best vid essay to date. A blip, or am I finally hitting my stride?

7 Responses to “Not in Kansas Anymore”

  1. I do hope you’ve taken into account the film’s a.d. Reza Badyi — who was more than a mere assistant on the project. An Iranian immigrant this was his first job on coming to the U.S. He later made a name for himself in TV directing numerous shows including “Helltown” starring Little Bobby Gubatosi. He was also Jennifer Jason Lee’s stepfather — and much closer to this fine actress than her birth father. In fact when she went to Brown, Todd Haynes tells me she was known as Jennifer Badyi.

    Weird how Carnival of Souls never had much of a theatrical career but became a legend when it was sold for broadcast to late night TV . Perfect spooky viewing.

  2. I’m afraid I knew nothing of Badyi until this moment, so my video essay is devoted more to the film’s weid affect.

    Since the movie is now out of copyright, I wonder if it was sold to TV or simply became available for free? In which case its success echoes that of It’s a Wonderful Life, another tale of an unsatisfied small-town professional hovering between life and death, which likewise achieved cult status through repeated, free TV screenings.

  3. It was sold to TV a year after its theatrical release.

  4. Watching this on TV as an 8 year-old (as David E says, it went to the tube at warp speed) was a very odd experience. On the one hand, it had a lot in common with the grade Z horror movies on Chiller Theater and on the other hand, it had nothing in common with them at all. It seemed a lot like boring adult movies (i.e. I sensed there were things going on that I *didn’t get*) but it was too creepy to be really boring (many of my friends did not share this opinion). I really wish Harvey had kept going with features.

  5. You know he started another one? The rushes are out there on Internet Archive. But since any profits from CoS got vanished into thin air, I think he lost enthusiasm.

  6. I had no idea.

    A lot of it looks like B roll, but the fight at the gas station maybe might have been something or other, eventually. There’s a YouTube edit putting 5 minutes worth of footage in some sort of continuity. The in-camera SFX are kind of charming. From the comments on the page: “I can’t believe you have this footage! That professor is my father, Leonard Schneider. He was working for Centron as well, at the time, as a director and writer. They had him play the lead in this unfinished film, along with Jennifer Salt (later of Soap).” (I didn’t spot Jennifer in the edit or in the raw footage)

    The story it was based on—“The Reluctant Witch,” (also known as “Wherever You May Be”) by James E. Gunn—was adapted by the radio show X Minus One, and the episode can be streamed or downloaded as an mp3, also on the Internet Archive.

    Gunn has had his moments as a writer, but this doesn’t appear to be one of them. It’s really not fair to judge the story on the basis of a radio adaptation, especially one with an oboe going “Wah-WAH” every time the hero realizes he’s in trouble, but still.

    (Apologies for the lack of links, but for some reason the interface wasn’t letting me post them).

  7. The idea of Harvey linking up with a professional sci-fi writer was an intriguing one in principle. In a fair world, the quality of CoS would have been noted by SOMEBODY at the time and he’d at least have been working with a bigger budget.

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